The Department of Justice (part of the Ministry of Law and Justice) launched three empowerment initiatives on Thursday to promote pro-bono legal aid, improve access to legal services and decrease pendency of cases in rural areas. Flagging off the populist schemes, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Law & Justice, said that the programs were an attempt to further the department's core mandate of enhancing 'access to justice' in poor and vulnerable communities and deliver this right to citizens.
The three initiatives are - pro-bono legal services, tele law and Nyaya Mitra.
Hailing the programs as a furtherance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Digital India program, Prasad said that the schemes would usher in a new era of social inclusiveness and promote 'legal justice' to all corners of the country. "The initiatives are designed to give a voice to the voiceless. Good governance cannot come about without efficient justice delivery," said Prasad at the inauguration event.
The Pro-bono Legal Services initiative launches an online application on the Department of Justice website to enroll advocates who are interested in providing legal aid. This information can then be accessed by needy citizens through an interface provided by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and creates the first digital structure for legal aid in the country. The scheme also proposes to recognise pro-bono legal assistance provided by lawyers as one of the yardsticks of consideration for the appointment of judges to the high courts.
The Tele Law program, launched in partnership with National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), attempts to facilitate the delivery of legal aid by expert panels of lawyers stationed at State Legal Service Authorities, through digitally equipped Common Service Centres (CSCs). Armed with a team of 1,000 para-legals and video conferencing facilities, these CSCs are expected to enable community participation and capacity building in rural regions and will be launched as a pilot project in 1,800 gram panchayats across the nation. Out of the 1,800 gram panchayats to be covered - 500 are in Uttar Pradesh. 500 in Bihar and the rest are in the North-East and Jammu & Kashmir.
The Nyaya Mitra scheme, the last of the three initiatives, is a justice facilitation mechanism introduced to reduce case pendency at the district level. Addressing the issue of more than 2.4 crore cases in the lower judiciary, the scheme will place a special focus on cases that are pending for over 10 years, which will be identified through the National Judicial Data Grid. The program will create a 'Nyaya Mitra' in each selected district - who will be retired judicial (or executive) officer - to provide legal assistance and connect litigants to CSCs, government agencies and civil society organisations. The 'Nyaya Mitra' will also responsible for referring marginalised applicants to Lok Adalats and assist in prison reforms within the region. The initiative will be launched in 227 districts selected by the Department of Justice.